She was born in England in 1928. She went to Kenya in 1954 and worked with the C.M.C Bookshop in Nairobi, where she got married. She is publisher’s representative in Nairobi.

POEM: A freedom Song

Atieno washes dishes,

Atieno plucks the chicken,

Atieno gets up early,

beds her sacks down in the kitchen,

Atieno eight years old

Atieno yo.

Since she is my sister’s child

Atieno needs no pay

While she works my wife can sit

Sewing every sunny day,

With her earnings I support

     Atieno yo.

Atieno’s sly and jealous

Bad example to the kids

Since she minds them, like a school girl

Wants their dresses, shoes and beads.

Atieno ten years old,

Atieno yo.

Now my wife has gone to study

Atieno is less free,

Don’t I keep her, school my own ones,

Pay the party, union fee

All for progress? Aren’t you grateful,

Atieno yo.

Visitors need much attention,

All the more when I work nights.

That girl spends too long at market

Who will teach her what is right?

Atieno rising fourteen,

     Atieno yo.

Atieno’s had a baby

So we know that she is not barren

Fifty-fifty it may live

To repeat the life she had,

ending in post partum bleeding

Atieno yo.

Atieno’s soon replaced

Meat and sugar more than all

She ate in such a narrow life

Were lavished on her funeral

Atieno’s gone glory

Atieno yo.


Qn 1. What is the poem all about?

Answ: The poem is all about the mistreatment of a young child called Atieno by her blood uncle. Generally, the poem explores ideas of freedom in relation to children.

Qn 2. Who is the person speaking in this poem?

Answ: The person speaking in this poem is Atieno’s uncle. Consider the following verse from the poem:         “Since she is my sister’s child……”

Qn 3. What is the tone of the poem?

Answ: The tone of the poem is sympathetic to the girl but ironical at the same time. It is ironical in a sense that the uncle pretends to be very sorry for Atieno while he is in fact the one torturing her.

Qn 4. What is the mood of the poem?

Answ: The mood of the poem is sympathetic to the girl on one hand but it also makes us feel disgusted with Uncle’s behaviour of torturing the little girl on the other.

Qn 5. Where do you think the setting of this poem might be?

Answ: The setting of the poem is in Atieno’s Uncle’s house. Most of the events happening in this poem take place inside the Uncle’s house.

Qn 6. What kind of a poem is this?

Answ: This poem is a narrative poem. The poetess is telling us a story of Atieno from when she was living with her Uncle, and then she got pregnancy up to the end of her life.

Qn 7. Why do you think the poem is called “A freedom song” Whose freedom is it about?

Answ: The poem is called “A freedom song” as it is meant to free children from all sorts of mistreatment. Children have to be free from humiliation, exploitation and should be free to get education.

 Qn 8. Comment on the musical devices used in the poem.

answ:   (a) Rhymes

-The word “kitchen rhymes with chicken

-The word “pay rhymes with “day  so do “kids and “beads

-The word “free rhymes with “fee  so do “night and “right

(b) Refrain.

Atieno yo.

Qn 9. Discuss the themes found in the poem.

The themes found in this poem are child labour, humiliation, exploitation, segregation and hypocrisy.

{i} Child labour

There is a question of child labour discussed in this poem. For example in the first stanza, Atieno is burdened with a house chore at her Uncle’s home when she is just eight years old while there are other grown- ups like the aunt who just watch her being busy with house activities and not assisting her.

{ii} Humiliation

This is another theme found in this poem, from the poem Atieno is humiliated by her uncle’s family, despite working very hard for them, Atieno sleeps in the kitchen with sacks as her beddings and floor as a bed.

{iii} Exploitation

Exploitation can be defined as the misuse of human resources without paying proper benefit for it. In this poem Atieno is exploited by her blood uncle, she works hard for him but being paid nothing, as this is not enough, whatever Atieno gets from her work (sewing) the uncle also shows the interests in her earnings.

{iv} Segregation

This is also another theme found in this poem, Atieno is badly treated by the members of her uncle’s family, Atieno is segregated as she does not sleep with the rest of her Uncle’s family, she is also segregated by not being sent to school as other children although her age allows her to be at school.

{v} Hypocrisy

This refers to that practice in which a person pretends to be different from what he or she really is, because he or she wishes to appear to be a better person. This is shown from this poem in the last stanza.

During Atieno’s funeral, the uncle prepares a huge feast for the mourners to show that he is so much concerned (very touched by Atieno’s death) while in reality, he is the one responsible in one way or another for her death.


  1. I appreciate your work sir, but an interesting question is, if the song is meant to free the children from the mistreatment how come the persona is the uncle? does the uncle want to free Atieno from his mistreatment? My point is the question about WHO IS THE PERSONA is confusing me seeing people say that it is the UNCLE , to me it sounds like the PERSONA IS AN OBSERVER, a different person who witnessed all the misstreatment and then he/she narrates by mimicry what the uncle was saying during Atieno’s life. This is why in the last stanza the uncle is no longer speaking but the persona(observer) himself, showing that the uncle cared about the dead(funeral) and not the living Atieno


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